Dear friends who tend to vote Democrat,
It is indeed time to “get real.” But in April 2016, what’s realistic?
The overriding goal must be to stop Trump or Cruz or whoever and win back the Senate (and maybe even the House), but the way forward is not obvious. It’s not over, but if Hillary does end up the Democratic candidate in the general, there’s no basis for assuming it will be an easy or certain path to the Whitehouse. Old common wisdoms — e.g., that Hillary’s centrism would be more popular with independent voters in the general, that Bernie’s socialism would make him a laughing stock — are not so much proven wrong as just rendered much less certain. Maybe they’d prove true, maybe they wouldn’t. It’s true that favorability ratings and head-to-head matchups are weak predictors, but Hillary’s consistently weak showings in both should give us all pause. It’s likely that if it were Bernie in the general, the general election would be a sh_-show. (Yes, there’d be the redbaiting, but I’d be more worried about having the full force of Wall Street against him, as they’d back any Republican nutcase against Bernie.) But it will be a sh_-show with Hillary, too, if of a different flavor.
Hillary is not a liar or a simple slave to Wall Street or someone who wants to nuke Palestinians. She is in many ways the best of the Clintonite wing of the party; she is not nearly as sleazy as Bill or folks like Andrew Cuomo, she is often fantastic on women’s issues, and has a genuine talent for finding and articulating policies that address real needs of ordinary people. (It Takes a Village was a brilliant intervention.) But she is part of a community of economic neoliberals, a community that has spent their entire professional lives pursuing a set of political tactics that may not be working any more (if they ever worked well). She is surrounded by people who, if she wins the primary, will calmly start talking about “pivoting” towards the general election by taking more right wing views as if it is wise and smart, without any sense of how painfully dispiriting and dishonest the “pivot” sounds to most voters, about how it is of a piece with a set of strategic practices that have encouraged the growth of voter cynicism and low voter turnout.
It is high time to start forging a new coalition inside the Democratic Party, a coalition that takes Bernie’s success and his policies seriously, even while it embraces other views as well. I’ve already written about how Bernie himself is not the best at that kind of coalition-building. The Clintonites as a whole tend to be self-certain and exclusionary (viz., Rahm Emanuel, Debbie Wasserman-Schulz, Andrew Cuomo). The way to start this coalition is NOT to call for Bernie to just step aside and get out of the way. It is going to take Democrats across the board to work with respect for both sides and a lot of political imagination to start defining some clear principles that clearly articulate a difference from the past, both in terms of policies and in terms of political tactics. For the former, perhaps strong positions on global warming, dramatic reductions in the cost of higher education, and Elizabeth-Warren-type regulations of the financial industry. For the latter, it means honestly working towards better small ‘d’ democracy, weaning the party of dependence on Super Pacs and bundled donations from rich folks, and abandoning triangulation as a preferred political strategy.
But my guess is that this isn’t going to come from the two candidates sitting down together and working it out. They’ll both have to be brought along by others who start the process without them.